About 500 families in Kasanje Village, Kyesiiga Sub-county in Masaka District face an uncertain future after a court on Friday ordered their eviction from a 350-acre piece of land, Chimp Corps report.
In his ruling, Masaka Chief Magistrate Deogratius Ssejjemba faulted the residents for unlawfully settling on the land belonging to Mr Joseph Bukenya without his consent.
Mr Bukenya ran to court alleging that residents settled on his piece of land that was given to him by Praful Patel before Asians were expelled from Uganda by former president Idi Amin in 1972.
The disputed land used to host Masaka Jaggery Mills Estate.
While delivering his judgment, Mr Ssejjemba said the defendants did not deny occupying the disputed piece of land illegally.
“Among the 12 defendants, only two of them; Mr Mudashiru Bbaale and Mr Lwanga Munyweza denied being occupants on the land, but unfortunately, they signed a document which was given to them by their lawyer, Mr Lawrence Yawe, confirming being residents on the contested land, and there is no proof that they should not be implicated in the matter,” he said.
Court found out that the defendants were not settled by government as per the law.
“After expulsion of Asians from Uganda, it was only government which had the right to their property including buildings and estates and there is no evidence adduced that the defendants were settled on the land by government,” he noted.
Mr Ssejjemba said during the locus visit to the disputed land on February 19 this year, the defendants failed to prove that they occupied the land 12 years before the promulgation of 1995 Constitution as amended.
“You had to show me fig trees, coffee plantations and houses that were in existence 40 years ago, but all what I saw were banana plantations and houses which looked only 15 years older,” Mr Ssejjemba added.
He also ruled that the defendants ought to bring in court an old person who has lived in the village as their witness to confirm how long they have stayed on the land, which they did not.
The chief magistrate said he was satisfied with the evidence brought by Mr Bukenya saying he proved his case beyond reasonable doubt.
“The plaintiff presented a letter from government indicating that he [Mr Bukenya] was entrusted by the Asians to take over their property in 1993,” he said.
Mr Ssejjemba ruled that the defendants should vacate the contested piece of land within six months.
“I am issuing a permanent injunction against the defendants to vacate the land and also remove all their property including houses and plantations, failure to do so in the given time, force will be applied and you will be responsible to pay the team that will come to evict you,” he ruled.
Mr Paul Buzaale, a defendant in this matter and also the chairperson of Kasanje Village, said the magistrate was biased, insisting that he only based on a fake land title that Mr Bukenya presented and failed to consider their evidence.
“According to the Land Act of 1988, the law legally recognises someone who has settled on a piece of land for more than 12 years as a bona fide occupant, but the magistrate quashed our evidence on that, saying he did not seen what we told him during his inspection yet he only inspected two households and said he was tired,” Mr Buzaale said.
He said the planned eviction will happen over their dead bodies.
“I personally bought five acres on the same disputed piece of land 15 years ago using my hard earned money and you expect me to just leave, no!” he added.
Ms Halima Nakalema, a wife to the late Hassan Tutayisire, one of the defendants, said her husband died of pressure due to stress he got as a result of the said land battle.
“My husband bought a piece of land where we live when he had just married me in 1980s. Now, I am a widow with children. Where do they expect us to go?” she asked.
Mr Mudashiru Bbaale, another defendant, said they plan to appeal against the judgment.
Mr Mudashiru also wondered how the magistrate would see fig trees and old houses yet he only inspected a small part of the affected village.